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Published April 5, 2010 | English (Language and Literature)

The Writing Centre Writes a Page Online

The Writing Centre at John Abbott College is a service offered to students to help acquire the skills required to successfully organize their thinking on a given subject into a coherent flow of logical observations that are regarded as good writing in our society. The Writing Centre's tutors are students in an English literature course where they learn how to be tutors as well. There is a four week tutor instruction period which now gives training about how to do both face-to-face and online sessions.

After Week 5, the Writing Centre opens. Students continue to meet in the course 2 hours a week and tutor 2 hours a week. The key to successful tutoring is to address higher order concerns first, such as generating and organizing ideas and then move on to address the mechanics. ‘Become a better writer' is one of the mottos of the Writing Centre. You want to create a dialogic situation discussing writing even in online tutoring. My advice to tutors is to react as an honest reader.

I first took over the Writing Tutors course in Fall 2008 replacing someone who had retired. The program had dwindled down to one section of 24 students, which is a dramatic drop from the 1990s, when two sections of approximately 35 students were run every semester. It was clear from student interviews that the introduction of the CRC, known as the R-Score in most colleges, had had a dramatic effect on students' willingness to take the course. The CRC is calculated by section in English and is an indicator of the student's group ranking. As tutors must have an 85% average in their prior English course, as well as a recommendation by another teacher, the reality of a lower R-Score was almost a certainty.

As the result of heavy promotion of the Writing Tutor's course in Fall 2008, registration rose from 24 tutors to 49 for the Winter 2009 semester; however, many of the newly available tutoring hours went unused. One could conclude that the supply of tutoring had been so small for a while that the demand had shrunk accordingly. There was some talk of increasing the number of sections of the tutor course from one to two per semester, but it was clear that the clientele for this number of tutors needed to be rebuilt before launching a second section. From my limited three semesters of running the Writing Centre, I felt that "no shows" (students who book and do not show up) and time conflicts (students who cannot fit a session in) were other reasons that tutoring sessions ended up being wasted.

One reason for the popularity of online tutoring is that a lot of students can go online when they can't fit face-to-face tutoring into their schedules.

After more than a year, I realized that something new was needed to reinvigorate the Writing Centre. I attended the Summer Institute for the International Writing Center Association in Philadelphia. There I learned about online tutoring and that it didn't have to be synchronous. I realized that online tutoring was what the Writing Centre was missing.

One reason for the popularity of online tutoring is that a lot of students can go online when they can't fit face-to-face tutoring into their schedules. You lose some interaction when you go online, but it has increased the total amount of tutoring by 14.9% and has itself increased 50% from last semester because of convenience. Online tutoring is now in its second semester and being done with just the technical support of MIO (messaging in Omnivox) and LEA. Students merely have to cut and paste assignments into that account. I get the material and forward it to a tutor.

The Summer Institute also provided some extremely well thought out information to prepare tutors for online activity. Tutors use a writing advice template that provides a format for structuring advice which is adapted from the Writing Centre at the University of Maryland. The online tutoring site also contains links to the Purdue Owl, a site for grammar handouts and exercises.

The clients of the Writing Centre are split between international students, Francophones and Anglophones. Anglophones use the online center more than the face-to-face feature because they can submit their work online and not be seen needing tutoring. The other advantage is that although tutors miss the face-to-face component, they don't get pressure from their students to just fix the essays. They cover more material in an hour, and the tutors feel that students automatically keep a copy of their work whereas the students in face-to-face sessions have to make a hard copy.

Grammar Rules 101: Episode 1 - Comma Splicing

The Writing Centre is advertised on the JAC Portal. There is also a community on Lea with 400 students which posts schedules and links to good grammar sites. Last year I started making podcasts. There are two kinds of them. One type gives general information. An example is a podcast that shows students how to get to the Writing Centre. This semester, more grammar podcasts are being created, and two have been done. I use them as advertising for the Writing Center as well. There have been 400 hits for a podcast.

The success of the online sessions is proof of the value of the Writing Centre and a demonstration of the power of Information Technology in education.

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